Relocation, relocation: helping families living in tent cities
Gina Ayop, 28, lives in a tent city on the outskirts of Cagayan de Oro with her husband and four children, including three-year-old Mark Angelo. The family lost their home in Tibasak, Macasandig during the flash floods that followed Tropical Storm Sendong last December. It was the worst storm to hit northern Mindanao since 1916, dropping the equivalent of one month's rainfall in just one day, and the family were lucky to escape with their lives.
Their tent home is a temporary solution, while they wait for relocation to a new community. “We’ve been living here for over a month,” Gina says. “We have enough food and water but no electricity. The children are happy because they have many friends to play with. Mark Angelo likes to sing and dance. But sometimes he has tantrums because it gets so hot in the sun. At other times it rains and water gets into the tent.”
Gina’s husband works in Cagayan de Oro as a security guard. The family are on a waiting list for a new house in a resettlement community in nearby Calaanan. “The Mayor said we can’t go back to our old home because the area has been declared unsafe,” Gina says. “We’re happy to move to the Calaanan because it has good facilities and we’ll be more comfortable there.”
In the meantime, UNICEF is providing a child-friendly space at the tent city, where children like Mark Angelo and his cousin Stephen can go for supervised play and learning each morning. We have also provided latrines, water supply and hygiene kits for families in the camp. Through a local partner, we have conducted screening for malnutrition and provided supplements and guidance on infant and young child feeding.
“There are currently 132 children living in this tent city,” says assistant camp manager Jervie, from the Department of Social Welfare and Development. “Some of their parents work in the city, some work here as vendors. We’re doing an inventory of skills to help other families get back to work. The main problem for them is transport – it costs 15 peso each way to get into the city by jeepney, but for some people their daily income is only 50 pesos.”
Advocating for children
The Ayop family is, in some ways, one of the lucky ones. Over 1.1 million people, including 330,000 children, have been affected by the Mindanao floods, with at least 15,000 children living in evacuation centres and tent cities. Many of the homeless families were living along river banks or on flood plains that have now been declared off limits for housing.
“The government is planning to relocate all the affected families by June,” says Nonoy Fajardo, head of UNICEF’s temporary office in Cagayan de Oro. “Lots of houses have been pledged but there is a scarcity of land to build them on. Both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan are mountainous areas and land is as expensive here as in Manila. Even the best case scenario will leave around 5,000 families without homes.”
We got a sense of the scale of the problem when visiting an evacuation centre at West City Central School with UNICEF child protection specialist Rohannie Baraguir. We were approached by a mother, Aurora from Barangay Bonbon, who was very distressed. “Please can you help get my family on the relocation list?” she pleaded, with tears in her eyes. “There are 37 families here whose homes were destroyed and we have nowhere else to go.”
UNICEF is working to ensure that women and children’s voices are heard in the relocation process, and that families are kept together. In a single day, Rohannie visited six evacuation centres and the tent city. She met staff from the Barangay (village) Councils and the national Department for Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to advocate for women and children.
“We are working with the government to set up a database of separated and unaccompanied children,” Rohannie says. “So far, we have identified 53 cases, of whom 32 have been reunited with their families. The others are being cared for by relatives or social workers.”
Keeping families together
© UNICEF Philippines/2012/Andy Brown
UNICEF believes in the importance of protecting family unity, especially in the aftermath of natural disasters like Sendong. Tracing parents, siblings or extended family and reuniting separated children is a top priority. Reintegrating these boys and girls to their families helps restore a sense of normality to children who faced profound stress during the disaster.
Rohannie has recently identified two new cases, one-year-old Roy and three-year-old Marie, who were both orphaned during the flood. “Roy was living with unrelated neighbours,” she says. “We referred him to the DSWD and, after family tracing, he was reunited with his uncle in Pagadian City. The uncle had to prove his identity and relationship to Roy.”
Tragically, Marie lost both her parents and two siblings in the storm. “She was found floating on a piece of wood and her feet were going white from being in the water all night,” Rohannie continues. “Marie’s now living with her grandparents and, following an assessment, it was decided that she could stay there. I agree with the decision. She’s much healthier now and is going to nursery school.”
UNICEF is working in both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan to reunite separated and unaccompanied children with their families, to protect them, keep them healthy and get them back into school. However, this work is at risk due to a lack of funds, which is still $6.1 million short.
“We currently have enough money to continue operating here for another month or two,” Nonoy Fajardo, head of UNICEF’s temporary office in Cagayan de Oro comments. “After that, if we don’t get more funds, we’ll need to scale back our activities or even shut down the office.”
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